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Thursday, 17 September 2015
Page: 7180

Senator GALLAGHER (Australian Capital Territory) (15:41): I will add a few comments to those the committee chair, Senator Bernardi, has just made. This building and the work that takes place in it form the heart of our nation's democracy. It is a building of great symbolic and architectural significance. It is the home of the nation's government and a place where, at times, great dramas are played out, as we have only recently been reminded. It is a place which pulses with visitors and lobbyists. It is the destination of schoolchildren and families from all around the country, newly arrived migrants, overseas tourists and retirees. It is the place where bills are legislated and debated, where Hansard workers faithfully keep the record of our speeches and debates and where librarians provide high-level research and support to every representative. It is where the security guards and AFP officers are vigilant in ensuring that everyone in the building, from the Prime Minister to every child visitor, is kept safe. It is where committee secretariat staff provide support to politicians inquiring into the issues of the day.

This place is important not only for those who have the privilege to work here but for our national pride, our sense of self and our sense of nationhood. In no small measure, it is a place of employment for many of my constituents, a source of local pride and, at times, when the word 'Canberra' can be a synonym for politics, the source of negative national banter.

It is therefore imperative that, at all levels, Parliament House functions as an effective and efficient, well-oiled machine at all levels; that we can be certain that its heritage is protected, it is well maintained and its assets are accounted for; that its support services are functional and well coordinated; and that its staff are appropriately skilled and led.

The focus of the Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee's inquiry has been the performance of the Department of Parliamentary Services, including what progress has been made since the committee's 2012 report. A range of other associated matters were also examined, including the structure of DPS, oversight and security arrangements, the future of ICT services, the use of Parliament House as a commercial venue, the current budget-setting process and the operations and maintenance of the parliamentary estate. There have been two interim reports issued by the committee. This is the third and final report of the committee.

By any measure, this has been a thorough and forensic examination of all aspects of the performance of DPS, and DPS has been found wanting. There is no doubt that the evidence brought before this inquiry, one which commenced before I came into this place, has revealed matters of great concern. I do not intend to canvass issues already dealt with in the interim report or indeed by the chair in his comments. What I would like to focus on is the accountability framework established by the committee to oversight and monitor progress within DPS in remedying and rectifying problematic, organisational, operational and cultural issues that have come to the committee's attention.

First and foremost is the need for regular oversight and monitoring of the administration and management of DPS, including its management structure, details of any bullying and harassment complaints, staffing levels in Hansard and an evaluation of the full-day shift trial in Visitor Services. Dates have been set for required regular updates to be given to the committee prior to estimates hearings. Time lines have also been set for the production of the final conservation management plan and the design principles by 30 October 2015 and the central reference document by 30 September 2017.

There are recommendations for further audits of contract management to be undertaken both internally and by ANAO and the committee has recommended that there be a triennial stocktake of assets in all areas of Parliament House. Importantly in my view, the committee has once again recommended that the funding and administration of DPS be jointly overseen by the Senate Appropriations, Staffing and Security Committee and the House Appropriations and Administration Committee and that standing orders be amended accordingly.

The committee also took the view that, given that a total of $270,000 has already been spent on a review of the visitor experience at Parliament House, DPS now provide the committee with a list of the recommendations that it intends to implement. We know from evidence given to the committee that visitor numbers were falling, that Parliament House in itself is a major tourist attraction but efforts to improve the visitor experience lies stranded without any coherent or centralised management and accountability focus. Similarly, the committee has recommended that DPS provide the committee with a revised and updated policy on the use of Parliament House facilities for functions and events once that policy has been finalised.

Finally, I would like to put on the record my support for the initiation of an independent structural review of DPS and note that that work is currently underway to recruit a new secretary. I remain hopeful that the report tabled here today, combined with the structural review and the appointment of a new secretary, together with the ongoing monitoring of progress of various recommendations, will set a new and purposeful direction for DPS into the future. I would also like to acknowledge and put on the record my thanks to the Chair, Senator Bernardi, and my fellow committee members for the collegiate and cooperative approach taken in finalising this report. It would be remiss of me if I did not put on the record my thanks to former Senators John Faulkner and Kate Lundy, who provided invaluable support and advice to me when I joined the committee in March this year.

Question agreed to.